Understanding Oxfam’s WEE in Value Chains Programming

Oxfam implements programmes to improve women’s economic empowerment (WEE) within value chains in more than 40 countries. This article highlights distinctive characteristics of Oxfam’s programmatic approach to tackle the broad spectrum of barriers to WEE.

Covering around 30 projects, the review provides great insights in the kinds of approaches Oxfam is taking within its programmes to improve women’s livelihoods, wellbeing and realise their economic rights, and in the ways in which programmes are able to combine different approaches to address multiple barriers to women’s economic empowerment (WEE) in value chains.

The following sections detail the key approaches taken by Oxfam programmes around those themes:

What is a value chain?

The value chain for a given marketable product is the sequence of all production and marketing steps, ranging from primary production through processing and distribution up to the retail sale of the product and finally to its end users.

Source: GIZ (2012), ‘Gender and Value Chains’.

Main barriers to WEE

  • Accessing markets to ensure women achieve a fair price for their products (i.e. in Honduras)
  • Access to productive resources such as land and water, training which are essential to investing in their livelihoods (i.e. in Nepal and Gaza)
  • Access to Financial resources like credit and loans (i.e. in GuatemalaEthiopiaGeorgia and Gaza)
  • Lack of decision-making power (i.e. in GeorgiaZambia and Rwanda).
  • Unpaid care work/ time poverty (i.e. in Rwanda).
  • Poor working conditions are another barrier to women’s access to decent employment (i.e. in Morocco).

Inclusive Market Systems Development

Oxfam’s work in this theme is rights-based and postulates that smallholder farmers need to have greater levels of influence, women’s empowerment and rights need to be prioritised for more equitable market systems to be achieved, the private sector has a duty to behave responsibly, and Governments have the responsibility to create an enabling environment.

Work under this theme aims to address power imbalances between women and men and between smallholder producers and larger market actors along the value chain.

Oxfam’s GEM programme in Tajikistan aims to achieve a deeper integration of women smallholder farmers within the agriculture value chain and market by identifying key input supply linkages, diversified output markets and value addition opportunities.

In addition, women and marginalized smallholders are supported to work collectively through producers’ organizations, women’s groups and informal groups to increase their power. The Samudram Women Fisherworkers programme in India has been successful in federating women’s institutions from village to state level, setting up processing and procurement systems to enhance women’s access to market and better prices for their products, enhancing business management skills, ensuing access to formal financial institutions and obtain a formal status as producer.

Inclusive market systems approaches bring together a range of stakeholders in the enabling environment and various service providers required for market access, as well as those in production, distribution, marketing and sales processes. Oxfam’s GEM programme in Zambia involves setting multi-stakeholder platforms to facilitate engagement meetings between private sector companies and producer groups, and cost-sharing mechanisms with the private sector to develop products and services that respond to the needs of women smallholder farmers. In addition, working with industry associations, the programme aims to create a critical mass of women dairy farmers for more effective private sector engagement.


Enterprise Development and Impact Investing

Oxfam sees opportunities in supporting SMEs which can provide leadership and economic opportunities for women, youth and smallholder farmers, and develop commercial viability. This can be achieved through a combination of finance provision and business technical support. Oxfam’s WISE programme in Guatemala is designed for women emerging from microfinance-lending programs with businesses that show potential for further growth. These women often are not able to access growth capital as they fall into the “missing middle financing gap”: needing loans larger than those offered by microfinance institutions and smaller than what would be considered by mainstream banking institutions. Core components of the initiative include the WISE Fund, which supports loans to women entrepreneurs in partnership with local financial institutions, training programs for women designed to increase their economic leadership and efforts to strengthen the image of women entrepreneurs as role models and leaders in their communities.

Impact investing involves contributions of capital into SMEs and related funds with the intention to generate social impact alongside financial returns from below market to market rate. In several circumstances, money earned/repaid by the investment recycles. The Enhancing Livelihoods Fund – which partners Oxfam with Unilever and the Ford Foundation - works globally to provide funding for enterprises (usually suppliers) in Unilever’s supply chains to improve their social impact in sourcing from small holders, empowering women in the supply chain and improving conditions for workers. For this, each grantee must complete a gender analysis (which is something that these companies would otherwise typically not do).

Community Savings Groups and Access to Finance

Savings groups provide an efficient platform to strengthen women’s financial inclusion, economic empowerment and engagement as active citizens. The aim is to secure women’s control over productive assets and resources, increase income, increase food security, ensure duty bearers are accountable to women and communities, build social capital and increase resilience of rural vulnerable populations, especially women. In Vietnam, Oxfam’s Women’s Economic Empowerment through Agriculture Value Chain Enhancement programme includes support for a Community Savings and Loan programme in conjunction with CARE.

Productive and Resilient Smallholder Agriculture

Work under this theme involves enabling access to better quality assets and innovation (knowledge, agricultural inputs, irrigation systems, fertile soils, etc.), promoting more equitable control over land and access to water, and tackling vulnerability to climate change, natural disasters and other shocks. This work also includes the promotion of public and private investment in social protection and, asset transfers that enable the most vulnerable and marginalised people, who often tend to be women, to access improved livelihoods opportunities. Importantly, this includes provision of production training (i.e. on bee keeping as part of the EDP programme in Honduras, organic stevia within the Sustainable Livelihoods programme in Paraguay or organic farming as part of the EDP programme in Rwanda on the pineapple value chain). It can also include better access to extension service as per the Facilitating the development of Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture programme and Support to Small-scale Farmers programme in oPTI.


Challenging social norms and improving social inclusion

Root causes of women’s unequal access to assets and services, economic opportunities and decision making can be traced to social norms that dictate and freeze the expected roles of men and women. Activities that address these issues include the reduction and redistribution of care work. This can be illustrated by the GEM programme in Tajikistan, undertaking rapid care assessments alongside training/counselling in households. These assessments are used by resilience action groups, who undertake risk assessments at community levels, and form 2 year action plans. It can also include leadership and confidence building, such as in the cases of the EDP programme in Rwanda and the Andean grains to fight poverty programme in Ecuador. Other activities in this area can include literacy promotion, promotion of sexual and reproductive health rights and access to services and addressing the root causes of gender based violence.

Policy, campaigns and influencing

Agriculture and rural development are intrinsically intertwined and their responsibility lies primarily within Governments. Understanding and influencing public policy to promote women’s economic empowerment is a key component of Oxfam’s work.

The Gender Transformative and responsible agribusiness programme on the rice value chain in Vietnam includes an advocacy agenda to influence the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s policy-making process on promoting public-private partnership, inclusive business and sustainable rural development principles.

At the same time, private sector actors are recognized to hold substantial power in the food system. Identifying and improving company policies and practices is necessary to address imbalances in power relationships between business and smallholders, to improve formal market opportunities and to improve the roles of women within value chains. Oxfam’s Behind the Bands programme has targeted global companies to this end to conduct impact assessments and publish data on the condition of women in their cocoa supply chains, to sign up to the UN Women Empowerment Principles and publish action plans to address gender inequities in their cocoa supply chains.

Approaches in combination

Multiple approaches are often combined within single programmes to provide numerous routes to women’s economic empowerment which cut across multiple barriers.

For example, the EDP programme in Honduras addresses poor access to markets by combining influencing on the provision of social protection and need for productive assets for honey, with training for beekeeping and the development of a market strategy to provide increased visibility for suppliers. These various approaches were combined to.

The Facilitating the development of Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture programme in oPTI addresses three key barriers - access to productive resources, access to financial resources, and poor working conditions – through three main approaches. These include (1) supporting business planning and marketing, storage, processing, and access to credit, (2) improving extension service delivery and training and (3) convening all key actors involved in the development of a resilient Palestinian agricultural sector in the Gaza Strip.

Photo: (1) Sam Tarling/Oxfam (2) Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville / Oxfam (3) Tessa Bunney/Oxfam

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